(Courtesy of the city of Phoenix)
As community members and city officials gathered last month to turn Roosevelt Row into a pedestrian haven, all was not well in paradise.
Community members and city officials met May 17 and 24 to view plans to revamp the sidewalks and roadway of Roosevelt Street. During the meetings, many hesitations and concerns with the plans and with downtown as a whole surfaced.
Phoenix’s website says the Roosevelt Row Pedestrian Project’s primary focus is “to improve the pedestrian experience along this portion of Roosevelt Street by narrowing the roadway in order to create space for wider sidewalks and to make room for pedestrian amenities. The project will retain some on-street parking; plant shade trees in areas without utility conflicts; add irrigation; install benches, bike racks, street and pedestrian lighting; and make improvements to the triangles on both the north and south sides of Roosevelt between Third and Fourth streets.”
In the first meeting, the group of community members focused on the transportation elements of Roosevelt Street between Central Avenue and Fourth Street. They pored over plans for the redesign, writing their suggestions for improving the city’s transportation plans. At the second meeting, community members were able to meet with Meejin Yoon, the architect who will design the concept.
Yoon lives in Boston as an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Architecture. She said she is very excited to have been accepted to take on this challenge. Yoon also works at her studio in Boston as an installation artist and designer.
A prevailing concern at both meetings was access to the light rail. At the first meeting, the discussion involved the city’s inability to continue bicycle lanes past First Street due to traffic congestion. At the second meeting, there were concerns that Yoon wouldn’t be able to create an “entrance” to Roosevelt Row near First Street to Central Avenue.
Gail Brinkmann, project manager for the city’s Street Transportation Department, assured community members that Yoon would take into consideration the need for the project to reach the light rail, even though it is currently not cost-effective to change the street’s layout.
As the current plans go, bicycle lanes do not extend west past First Street in order to maintain the existing right-turn lane at Central Avenue. However, the city’s consultant report from April 2011 included the light-rail stop at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street, demonstrating a need for pedestrian access to public transportation extending from Second Avenue to Seventh Street.
Traffic engineers were not present at either meeting to explain city officials’ defense against opening development between First Street and Central Avenue.
Thomas Godbee, Phoenix’s deputy street transportation director, explained via email that in order to relieve traffic heading west on Roosevelt Street, keeping two lanes will allow more cars to pass a green light. Ending the bike lane before the Central Avenue intersection, he said, does not prohibit bicyclists from either riding on the sidewalk for the remainder of the way or continuing on the street in the second lane.
“There is simply no room to build a new bike lane to connect to the light-rail station between First Street and Central Avenue, nor would it be cost-effective to do so,” Godbee said in the email.
Brinkmann explained in an email that the study was conducted so the city would have an idea of what could be done to narrow the roadway and to give an idea of how much it might cost so city officials could put together a Transportation Enhancement grant.
“The maximum funding awarded by TE grants is $750,000,” Brinkmann said. “That is why we can only narrow a portion of the roadway and not the whole stretch at once.”
At the second meeting, when Yoon asked the community if day or night amenities are more important to them, some members grew concerned over the tight budget to which Yoon is constrained. Although there was no overall consensus, many people were in support of daytime amenities, such as shade structures. While some members of the audience asked city officials if there was any way to obtain more money for the project, others were willing to give up daytime amenities to save money in the budget.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Boucek, who routinely rides her bicycle around town and lives in the area, said her main concern at the meetings was actual pedestrian use of the redevelopment during the day.
“I don’t walk around in 110-degree heat,” Boucek said. “I’m worried about placing shade structures with our limited resources.”
A representative from the Concord Eastridge development company expressed concern about building so much in what is essentially “a transitional space.” Members echoed his concern, bringing up the vacant lots that dot Roosevelt Row. Yoon said that temporary art pieces in the vacant lots can create space, but that her design will take that into consideration.
One idea written on multiple maps at the first meeting was to extend the curb on the southwest side of the Third Street intersection, creating a space for a plaza and making it safer for bicyclists.
“If you slow down traffic, Third Street becomes less dangerous,” Evans Churchill neighborhood board member Matthew Taunton said. Taunton also rides his bicycle around downtown often.
At the second meeting, the Third Street intersection was brought up again, but Yoon focused her attention to the north triangle of the intersection. There is a great opportunity to create a plaza there, Yoon said.
While community members differed on whether there should be continuous parking or the current plan of inconsistent pocketed parking, city officials insisted that it is the choice of the property owners whether there will be a pocketed parking area in front of their developments.
Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation project manager Kenny Barrett pointed out the lack of business owners at both meetings who might address these concerns.
“I need to bring this up at the next merchant association meeting,” he said.
Community member Sean Sweat had other concerns about the parking design that, to him, seemed prevalent in downtown.
“If you place trees in between parking spaces, the size of the space is a nightmare to change,” Sweat said. “But if the trees are set inside on the sidewalk, it’s just a matter of repainting the lines.”
Another problem Sweat saw was the trees dotting the artist’s conception of the south side of Roosevelt Street, which happened to be placed directly below the existing power lines.
“It’s unconscionable that the city and APS are hamstringing downtown by not burying the lines,” Sweat later said in an email. “I don’t care about aesthetics. I’m all about function and long-horizon fiscal efficiency.”
Wylie Bearup, the city’s street transportation director, said via email that the city had looked into burying the overhead power lines along Roosevelt Street before.
“As I remember the situation, there were already many underground utilities in Roosevelt Street in this area,” he said via email. “For safety and operational considerations there are minimum separation distances between various utility lines. It wasn’t possible to underground the power lines with the other existing underground utilities.”
A concern the group expressed at the second meeting was that Yoon should avoid considering First Friday’s guests as the norm, because it is a once-a-month anomaly. They also suggested that Yoon ride the light rail to understand the places that work as a direct result of the traffic light-rail stops create.
“You could go down one street and not know there are a massive amount of people there,” Roosevelt Row CDC Chair Cindy Dach said of First Friday’s pedestrian traffic.
City officials stressed during both meetings that all of the plans are preliminary at this point. The final plans will be set in place by July 2013, with the redesign to be completed by 2014.
The Roosevelt Row Pedestrian Project will cost roughly $960,000, with $210,000 allocated for Yoon’s architectural concept and Yoon being paid $40,000 in her contract with the city.
“Depending on what she designs and how it will be constructed, arts funding for construction will go to whoever constructs the artistic elements,” Brinkmann said.
Yoon said she wants to make this design part of the city, rather than dropping “something from outer space expecting it to work.”
Although there was much discussion at many points during the both meetings, when Yoon posed the question of which downtown public space has been most successful so far, the room was quiet. Dach eventually said she thought Food Truck Friday was successful, but for the most part the meeting’s attendants did not describe a true success in their neighborhood.
“The people of Phoenix are hungry for change,” Dach said. “They’re ready for something different.”
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(Photo credits in order of appearance: Meejin Yoon; David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Alan Karchmer;
Jeff Wolfram; Meejin Yoon, UNI; Andy Ryan; Meejin Yoon; Meejin Yoon in collaboration with Ground, Höweler + Yoon Architecture,
LinOldhamOffice, Merge Architects, MoS, SsD, Studio Luz, UNI, Utile and over,under; and Meejin Yoon.)